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Open the Land

Time 0:03:56


My maternal grandfather, Charles Midgley was born in York, England in 1882. By age 20 he had become the head gardener for a big estate. At the same time his desire for adventure was burning in his brain. It was then that he took note of advertisements for purchasing large sections of totally undeveloped land in Canada. Grandpa plucked up courage and made all the necessary plans to immigrate to this wonderful land….a real, almost unbelievable dream. He headed off to Liverpool to find a ship ready for the journey. He sailed on the Ivernia and landed in New York then made his way by train to Toronto, Ontario. Next would be the giant step into the unknown west of Canada which would take more than a week by train. He arrived in Pekisko, with a wagon, a horse, feed for same, a tent, equipment for his survival, and seed and tools to open up the land. No roads had been established, just rough trails, so the trip was not easy.

Grandpa had applied for two quarter sections of land. The only roof he had to set up over his head was a canvas tent, with a rough cot for sleeping. For winter, a wood burning stove was set up in the tent for heat and cooking with a pipe chimney rigged up to the outside. (In summer the stove was set up outside the tent). Final ownership of this land was agreed upon with the Government, that the sections had to be worked for five years to build fencing, cultivate ground, plant seeds for crops, acquire livestock, dig a well and be living on the land. Some simple tools may have been available but this was accomplished through hard manual labour and all this done at times during winters with temperatures dropping to -50’/-60’ F.

Margaret Clarkson, Grandpa’s fiancé arrived in the spring of 1904 to a proper house and they married in a Methodist Church in High River. It was desperately isolated – no electricity, no running water and no neighbours. Having gone and stood on their land myself, I could feel a sense of aloneness, and bleakness in my own heart. I know that having Margaret with him was an enormous comfort to Grandpa. They soon established their own chores. Grandpa went out with the horse and wagon and worked the fields, while Margaret learned how to housekeep under very difficult conditions, compared to what she had been used to in a lovely English home and its normal comforts.

Grandpa and Grandma worked the land until completion of their Government agreement in 5 years, but lived on until 1911 when they sold everything up and moved East. My Midgley family were very industrious and persistent people. My grandmother died the year before I was born but I had the good fortune of knowing my grandfather well. I learned from his generous attitudes and positive outlook on life. Remembering so many of Grandpa’s stories of his love and experiences of this time of his life has become tremendously exciting and meaningful to me.

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